World of Mosses website

A Graphic Guide to Ontario Mosses

by Robert Muma


Mosses vs. Liverworts

The bryophytes are green, leafy plants as opposed to the leafless and woody (when dry) lichens, some species of which are popularly and erroneously known as "reindeer moss" or "caribou moss".

Most MOSSES are characteristically plant-like in structure with stem, leaves and fruit.  Since they are cryptogams, the "fruit" in this case is a sexually produced sporophyte containing spores rather than seeds.  Although not always readily apparent, the leaves, which are usually more or less symmetrical, grow spirally around the stem, or in a flat two-row arrangement.

LIVERWORTS, in most cases, have asymmetrical leaves arranged in flat ribbon-like rows, often with a third row underneath.  These are called "leafy liverworts".  Some species lie flat on the substratum without a stem or separate leaves, and are known as "thalloid liverworts".

Sharing the same habitat, mosses and liverworts will often be found growing together, the liverworts intertwining among the mosses, and at first seemingly indistinguishable from them.  With experience however, their more flexible, almost gelatinous texture becomes an instantly recognizable characteristic.



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